Undefeated Western now vying with Navy for Cotton Bowl

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Western Michigan on Tuesday night reached its highest point in the College Football Playoff rankings.

But there's a new wrinkle to watch out for — and that would be Navy.

WMU was ranked No. 17 in the CFP rankings announced Tuesday night, which makes it the best-ranked, so-called "Group of Five" team in the second-to-last standings.

Navy checked in two spots back, at No. 19.

The highest-ranked "Group of Five" team, or mid-major, when he final playoff rankings are announced Dec. 4 is set to receive one spot in the New Year's Six Cotton Bowl, to be played Jan. 2 in Arlington, Texas.

But not so fast ...

Filling out that Cotton Bowl spot could be put on hold by a week if Navy is close enough to Western Michigan in the final rankings.

"All of our selection committee members have Dec. 10 at 6 Central held open for a teleconference, in case we need it," Kirby Hocutt, the athletic director at Texas Tech and the CFP chairman, said on a call with reporters Tuesday night.

"There's still considerable games in front of the selection committee before our final rankings involving those two teams."

WMU's 'ridiculous' turnover margin biggest stat in 12-0 season

Here's why:

WMU (12-0) plays in the Mid-American Championship game against Ohio (8-4) at Ford Field on Friday night. On Saturday, Navy (9-2) plays Temple (9-3) in the American Athletic Conference championship game in Annapolis, Maryland.

If the Broncos win the MAC championship, it's tough to imagine any scenario where they don't receive the "Group of Five" Cotton Bowl bid. There are only two unbeaten teams left in the Football Bowl Subdivision, No. 1 Alabama and Western Michigan.

But if the Broncos — more than a two-touchdown favorite over the Bobcats — were to be upset, and the Midshipmen take care of business in their conference title game, that could open the door for Navy to leapfrog WMU.

Under that scenario, the CFP committee, which will make the final call, could decide to fill out the four playoff slots and all but one of the New Year's Six slots — including the other half of the Cotton Bowl matchup — because Navy doesn't finish the regular season until Dec. 10, at home in its annual rivalry game with Army (6-5).

Cotton Bowl COO/CFO Marty MacInnis told The News on Tuesday night that scenario is realistic, if WMU and Navy are close enough in the final playoff rankings. MacInnis didn't specify what "close enough" constituted.

Hocutt refused to speculate, either, though he said Western Michigan's strength of schedule remains an issue.

"Their strength of schedule continues to be a concern, and something that the selection committee is aware of," Hocutt said. "Look at a Western Michigan team that is very successful on the offensive side of the ball. At the same time, they've only beaten two (Football Bowl Subdivision) teams with a winning record (Eastern Michigan and Toledo)."

WMU also has beaten bowl-eligible teams Northwestern and Central Michigan.

Navy has a solid resume, with victories over Houston, Memphis, Tulsa and a down Notre Dame team.

The last two weeks, Navy has destroyed opponents, 66-31 over East Carolina and 75-31 over SMU.

Western Michigan had been watching out in recent weeks for its fellow Broncos of Boise State, but Boise State seemingly took itself out of the Cotton Bowl running with Friday night's loss to Air Force. Later Friday night, WMU finished the regular season undefeated with a 55-35 shellacking of a pretty good Toledo team.